Every year, International Women’s Day (IWD) is an opportunity to highlight the role that we can all play in building a more gender-balanced world. The pandemic has had a huge impact on the workplace and has disproportionately affected women, who hold traditional caregiver roles, with more than one in four women considering stepping out or stepping back from the workplace. While women have made important gains in representation over the past year, especially at the senior leadership level, millions of other women have dropped out of the workforce entirely[i]. With decades of progress being undone for gender equality in the workforce and biases re-presenting themselves, this year’s IWD carries even greater importance. Businesses across all industries must work hard to create a positive working environment where gender equality is facilitated and celebrated.
This year’s Global IWD theme, Break The Bias, is about working together as individuals and organizations to create a world free of bias. This means breaking the bias in our communities, in education, and within our workplaces.
At Proxima we are committed to this collective goal, ensuring that we are promoting gender equality both within the business and beyond. In 2021 a group of Proxima colleagues founded our Gender Equality Network (GEN) an inclusive, safe space for everyone to share experiences, information, and educational material, to facilitate the conversation and help promote gender equality.
To mark IWD, we wanted to put the spotlight on two of our female leaders who are part of the GEN Committee and get their views on what #BreakTheBias means to them.
Vicki Johnson, Consultant – UK team, has spent five years in the consultancy space, with her past two years being at Proxima, helping us to transform the way our clients deliver procurement services for their business. Amie Garcia, Senior Consultant – US team, has an extensive background in strategic sourcing and project management, having made the move to consultancy early last year. She currently leads the Marketing workstream for a global B2B technology giant.
What does #BreakTheBias mean to you?
For Vicki, it’s all about making real change saying “We have all experienced some form of unconscious bias in our working and personal lives, whether that is personally or through a friend or colleague. It is such an important campaign theme, as knowing bias exists is not enough to make a material change, it is only through action and calling out this behavior that we will level the playing field.”.
Amie believes the best way we can begin to break the bias is by looking at ourselves. Amie says that “if we can be brave enough to explore our own biases, as opposed to becoming defensive, we can then begin to take responsibility for actioning and advocating for policy and behavioral changes within our respective personal and professional communities.”
What are some of the key highlights from the work of Proxima’s GEN Committee?
Amie is looking ahead to 2022 as a big year for the GEN Committee in terms of the impact they can deliver. She is also keen to enable as much knowledge sharing about gender equality as possible, building on her book club event from last year in which the group read and debated Sheryl Sandberg’s novel, “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.”
Vicki has taken a central role in organizing this year’s IWD event, securing a guest speaker alongside the committee who she believes can “drive the message of this year’s theme of Break the Bias” and she is also looking at how she can create content to “promote our message of equality and inclusivity at Proxima.”.
In a traditionally male-dominated industry, how has Proxima supported you in your career?
“Allyship” – is a key part of Vicki and Amie’s experience of working at Proxima.
Vicki says: “On client engagements, my colleagues will give me equal opportunity to speak and have my opinion heard. I think Proxima gives women so many platforms to have their voices heard. I know that senior members of the team are always open to mentoring junior females within the organization and it is very refreshing to see women being promoted and their talent recognized equally.”
The main thing that Proxima has done in Amie’s view is to give her equal access to opportunities. She said, “The most important way Proxima supports me as a woman in a male-dominated industry is by allowing me to have stretch opportunities. Access to exciting new projects helps me learn and grow under male and female mentorship while providing me with a platform to showcase my existing strengths at a higher level.”
“Proxima has supported me in my career by giving me autonomy over my work and trusting me to deliver results in a way of working that is flexible to the often-unpredictable demands on my time as a mother of two.”
Our IWD Guest Speaker: Laura Bates
This year feminist writer, Laura Bates, spoke to our teams across the world about everyday sexism and the ways we can destigmatize gender discussions in the workplace.
Laura founded the Everyday Sexism Project in 2012 to document instances of sexism experienced by women around the world. It is the largest data set of its kind and shines a light on issues such as casual sexism and physical and verbal abuse, many of which occur in the workplace.
Reflect and rethink
On International Women’s Day, it was important for our teams to take time to reflect on the bias women face and how we can work together to challenge this status quo.
Laura outlined the complex ways in which sexism in the workplace can manifest in everyday scenarios such as the automatic designation of secretarial tasks, through to larger problems like the gender pay gap. We must recognize that ‘casual’ sexism is no more acceptable than institutionalized sexual prejudice.
Intersectionality was a key theme that came out of the conversation with Laura. Sexism and gender bias are inextricably linked to issues such as race, class, and sexuality. A holistic view is needed when approaching this issue and we must move away from the rhetoric of ‘choosing sides.’ You should be provided with the space to champion inclusion at all levels of all people.
Employers must challenge their bias when hiring and promoting, considering differences in circumstance and opportunity, with flexibility built into processes in order to accommodate this.
It is vital that businesses create an environment where challenges to sexist behavior are encouraged rather than being seen as confrontational and more must be done to avoid victim-blaming at all costs. The normalization of sexism in male-dominated environments must be disrupted and men must play a role and become active bystanders.
The key to moving forward is education. We need to educate ourselves, our colleagues, our family members on the gender imbalance and work together to create positive change.
This year’s theme of Break the Bias challenges the normalization of sexism. Unconscious bias affects all of us. It is not a case of blame or guilt, but of eliminating the taboo around challenging and discussing sexist behavior when we see it, especially in the workplace. It’s about being perpetually aware of our unconscious gender bias and consciously confronting it.
If you want to find out more about Laura’s Everyday Sexism Project: everydaysexism.com